Laura: Gradually, Then Suddenly
Laura Cathcart Robbins bares it all in her new memoir, Stash: My Life in Hiding. But for most of her life, she lied. A lot. Growing up in spaces where she felt out of place, she learned to hide key parts of herself, fabricate a persona, and push her problems way beneath the surface. Once she became a mother living in the world of the “Hollywood Elite,” Laura turned to Ambien to find relief from sleeplessness and constant worry, and it quickly became an addiction that was too big for even her to conceal. Eventually, she reached a dramatic crossroads: either stop hiding or risk losing everything. She and Steph dig into the path she chose and where it took her.
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Laura, Stephanie Wittels Wachs
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 00:03
How are you?
First of all, yes, I’m really good because nothing terrible has happened. There are no tragedies happening in my life right now. But I’m also overwhelmed.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 00:27
Listen, I don’t know about you. But anytime I get a real answer to my generic, how are you question? I immediately know I found my people. I’ve been looking forward to my chat with Laura Cathcart Robbins. But when she came right out of the gate with actual feelings, I knew this was going to be a great chat. You’re launching a book out in the world? Is that the crux of it?
Yeah. Yep. That is the crux of it. That is the crux that it is. It’s like, you know, when I had kids, and everybody told me how much work it was going to be. And I thought for you, it won’t be that much work for me. Because I’m super organized. And I had this down, and I’ve done my research. And all these writers told me exactly what it was going to be. And I did not think it would apply to me. And it absolutely does.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 01:24
Nothing can prepare you. Fortunately, your book is so good. I mean, I cannot put it down. I cannot put I blame you for my tired today. Okay.
I will take it. Blame for your tired.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 01:41
I wasn’t just buttering her up either. Laura’s book stash my life and hiding absolutely floored me. In the week leading up to our interview, I devoured it. And ever since I have been telling everyone I know to also devour it. Just listen to the opening lines, like as in the first sentence of the book.
In 2008, I ended a marriage got sober, and fell in love all within a 10 month period.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 02:12
If that doesn’t scream Last Day story, I don’t know what does. I really am so delighted to talk to you for a million reasons. But one is that you managed to be in recovery long term. And I’m always really curious and in awe and I want to absorb all the lessons you have to teach us because I mean, that’s where we started this shows like okay, well I lost my brother, how do other people not die? Like is it possible to not die from addiction. This is where three minutes into meeting my new best friend, I revealed to Laura how I was really doing that day, which was absolute shit garbage. See, the eight year anniversary of my brother’s death was happening in three days. My birthday would be the day after that. And because those two things are now inextricably linked. I deeply fucking hate this time of year. I also explained that I can relate to her current form of overwhelm as I also wrote a memoir about my traumatizing life experience called everything is horrible and wonderful.
Well, there are so many other possibilities of where I could be right now. This was a long shot. I think that I would be here. Talking to you. About my time after I wrote a book about that time. Because, gosh, I really love the title of your book. But it’s that horrible part of what’s wonderful is always right there. You know, it’s always right there and I can now I have choices. I can choose the wonderful. But I couldn’t always.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 04:09
Laura is a person who has chosen to embrace the fact that life contains multitudes all at once. It is both horrible and wonderful. And in case you aren’t familiar with the origin of my book title, because why would you be it came from a tweet finger packed by my brilliant brother Harris Wittels on May 28, 2014. He said, quote, let’s stop finding a new witch of the week and burning them at the stake. We are all horrible and wonderful and figuring it out. Laura agrees. And she showed up to this zoom in all of her complex human glory ready to bear at all. And after reading her book, I realized how much that took for her because when she was in her darkest of days, she was doing everything in her power to hide away the parts of herself. She didn’t want others to see, decades of lies and half-truths kept her hidden in plain sight. Now the least of which was an addiction to Ambien that debilitated her with increasingly severe withdrawal symptoms, every time she’d run out of her prescription.
The truth was, I was a bottomless pit when it came to it, and so I would hide it around my house, I would hide it in different places, so that I would be less likely to consume it all. But I had to hide it from myself.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 05:36
And are you as you’re hiding it from yourself, are you is there any voice in your head, it’s like, this is really fucked up.
Sometimes, most of the time, I was like, I basically clicked into survival mode. It was like, guns were going off on around me and I just had to survive. Like, that’s how my mind was.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 06:06
This is LAST DAY, a show about the moments that change us. I’m Stephanie Wittels Wachs. And today, the story of stashing away pill bottles and pieces of yourself. I’m talking with someone who lived the majority of her life in hiding, hoping that no one would see her for who she really was. But what she realized years after her last day, is that the stuff she was trying to hide is the stuff that makes her interesting and unique and fabulous. And insert adjective here. Once she stopped hiding and started showing up fully, that’s when she was ready to heal. So let’s start at the beginning. Laura describes her parents as quote, hippies, despite their African American Heritage, unquote. They moved around a lot when Laura was little and divorced early on. But both parents stayed present in her life. By the time she was five, her mother had remarried. And they settled down in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
For anyone who spent any time there, not just in Boston, but in Cambridge itself. It’s very idealistic, it’s very community. It’s beautiful. We weren’t middle class, but we lived in a middle class, Black neighborhood in Cambridge. And we were really poor, but I didn’t know how poor we were. So my mom kind of worked all this magic and, and that the I thought, you know, I went to school with almost all white kids, but I thought that most neighborhoods were like mine. So it wasn’t until much later on that I realized that, you know, they’re middle class, black neighborhoods are hard to find. Like, there just aren’t many of them. I mean, only black kid in a white school, I was always kind of like, that’s my brand, the only one in the room. It wasn’t a burden. It didn’t feel like but it was apparent to me that I needed to be, you know, better than it’s just how it went. I understood early on that I was carrying that weight. But I also didn’t feel it all at the same time. I had a really fun time with my friends at school, like I really liked being at the Cambridge Montessori School.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 08:31
Love a Montessori school.
But at home, I had a very my stepfather was not a monster, but he had a monster in him. And that monster seemed to be released by me. You know, when I rubbed him the wrong way, when I defied him, sometimes just me being me, was enough to kind of light the fuse on that keg of dynamite. And, and I say that he was he was not a monster, because he really wasn’t he was a really nice guy to everyone else. And I understand that now. But I as a kid, I was five years old when he came into my life. All I knew is that when I was me, you know, everything went bad in the house. He was, you know, abusive toward my mother. He would yell and scream at me I would get punished. So I learned not to be me. And that made it easier to live in my house.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 09:36
I’m sorry, that just like got me a lot. It’s a lot for a five year old. So a lot. It is. If I’ve learned anything from the five year old’s in my own life, it’s that they are 1,000,000,000% themselves in every single moment of life. Whether that is convenient for you or not. Due to the fact that Laura was learning at such a young age, to hide pieces of herself from those around her those who were supposed to take care of her and love her for who she was. It just feels really damaging. The term Laura uses in her book is Scheid Shi D, a combination of shame and pride that followed her around into young adulthood. When her family eventually resettled in Berkeley, California, she began struggling academically in high school, but her shied kept her from admitting it to anyone around her.
It’s such a shame, had I asked for help. I’m sure I would have had a much different experience. But you know, any anything to keep me off the radar is what I wanted. I didn’t want to be on anybody’s radar. Because when I was it usually wasn’t for a good reason. So yeah, I stopped going to classes and dropped out of school and got a job. Somewhere in the middle of spring semester, 10th grade sophomore year.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 11:08
Where did you get a job at that point?
I got a job. I actually had two jobs. I only write about one I got a job at the Marriott as a banquet waitress. I also worked in a sauna, the Berkeley sauna cleaning out the rooms as before people oh, there it was gross. Like by had tongs and gloves. But still it was disgusting. And then check people in and you know, and you get some really kind of quirky people that are regulars in saunas. Oh, I bet. Yeah, so it was I was there by myself most of the time. Usually, I didn’t have a coworker, we worked in shifts. So that one was kind of lonely banquet. waitressing was more fun. But yeah, I was. I was just I had no goal in mind. I didn’t know what I was going to do. But I was told by my stepfather and my mom and my stepfather. They actually got divorced right around then. So I was told by my mom that if I wasn’t going to be in school, I needed to work. So that’s what I did.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 12:13
And did your colleagues and coworkers say, hey, your 16, what are you doing hanging out at the Marriott with us?
I’m sure they were, I’m sure that I lied and either said that I was like them. Like I was working to make extra money. But I was still going to school. Probably by the time I was 17, or 18. I’m sure I just said I graduated because that’s what I ended up telling everybody by then.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 12:39
And you did start taking a few college classes at that time, correct?
I did. I did. I took three at Merritt College in Oakland shout out to Merritt College. I took an English class. I thought that would be an easy class for me. And it was really hard. It was really hard. I didn’t know anything about syntax or grammar, you know, parts of the sentence. I didn’t know that stuff. I just, you know, my education really came from books. Yeah. Like, my mom was reading Dostoyevsky and Gogol to me when I was, you know, two and three. And I didn’t like, there were words that I like, hyperbolic, I had no idea how that sounded. I’d only read it. You know, so when I first set it in a group of people, and they looked at hyper bowl, what do you mean? I know, it’s hyper bowl, but, but I have, I have all kinds of instances like that, where I reveal myself to be a fraud, because I’ve done this very internal education, this very non-formal education. So I, you know, I just thought I could kind of jump in the deep end, and swim with everybody else when I really needed swimming lessons in the shallow end.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 14:04
Totally. Yeah, yeah. But I also understand that around this time, you found black community you found..
Oh, my goodness.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 14:14
People who are looking like you, and how did that feel? Can you talk about that experience?
Yes. Oh, my goodness. I love these women. So I then I was at Merritt College, it was pouring down rain. It was probably my fourth day on campus. And I smiled at this woman who was coming down the steps toward me. And she said, What the fuck are you smile again? And I was like, and then she’s like, I’m just fucking with you. Come on. And I was like, oh, oh. And so she’s like, what are you? Where are you going? And I told her, I was looking for something. She’s like, mine to come in here with us. And she invited me into the cafeteria. There are probably six women in there. One guy. And they like, they took me in it felt like family, like a family taking me in. And I write in the book, they took me to black church, they took me to get my hair done at a black salon. I never had that before. They played Black music and taught me how to dance Black and we went to black clubs, and we ate it black places, like I learned what to order in a black restaurant. Things that I just, you know, my both my parents are Black, but they’re more like, artsy, intellectual, black. And not like, you know, like, Black power or Black or, you know, like, like, they’re just like, they weren’t they weren’t those church going, Back people that that I have grown to know and love. So this was, this was a fantastic experience for me. I loved it.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 15:56
Immersion was like, a full education.
It was, I call it my black education. It really was.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 16:06
that’s amazing. And so did you feel at that time? I know, you felt this kind of, I’m calling it invisibility. Is that the right way to characterize it or the stashing of yourself?
I think like an invisibility is good, like to wear an invisibility cloak at times. And I could take it off with them. You know, I didn’t have to try to blend. I didn’t have to try to be under the radar. I was this very empowering. And I know that anybody who has ever been invited to join a friend group, like starting on the playground, right? Or the lunch table in school, do you want to sit with us? There is something so not just intoxicating, but that I think there’s that element as well. Because then you can look at everybody else and be like, yeah, man, I got myself a group got it. You know, we had a name for ourselves. We were the first ladies in every situation. We called ourselves the flies. I was one of them. Wow. And that was what we call each other. We just call each other fly. No one ever said their first name. Like, hey, fly, what’s up? Yeah, fly. Get over here. Yes, we just totally substituted out. So you know, no one else was allowed. And that exclusivity felt really good, too.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 17:25
That’s a real group. That’s amazing. That sounds really refreshing. But I understand at this time, you also this is where you started experimenting with drugs, right? Using drugs.
It was, so freebasing, from what I understand, which is smoking a chemically pure form of cocaine, was invented in Berkeley, by a couple of scientists who were experimenting. And then they never left their lab. No, I’m just kidding. I don’t know what happened to them.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 17:58
They died there. They’re still there in the lab.
At this time, the time that I’m talking about is the 1980s, early 80s. It was more glamorous, it wasn’t like crack cocaine, and it wasn’t sold in vials by dealers on the corner. It was like you went to someone’s house party, and they’d be cooking it. Like they’d have pots on the stove, like they were making dinner. And, you know, everybody would kind of wait for their batch. And so at first I observed this, you know, had I entered into a drug den where people were, you know, like, unshowered and been there for days and, you know, twitching and like, stereotypes
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 18:48
Stereotypes. Dark dungeon dragons.
Exactly. So I probably wouldn’t have been inspired to partake if that had been my experience with it. But yeah, it was all these parties. And there was this there was this brother there. That was a he was a dealer. And he was really nice to me, like, why don’t you come here, and then he would have my favorite food next time I got there. And so I got a lot of special attention for him. And I don’t remember exactly when I tried it for the first time during that time, but I really liked it. I was also going to school then. So I would go to his place, like after school on a Friday. And that’s what we would do with all those party people there. And then I go home, and I’d have kind of a normal life during the week. But I did that for a year. And it got progressively worse over the year. So it wasn’t just Friday night. It was Friday night into Saturday morning and then it was Saturday morning into Saturday night and probably by the end. I wasn’t I would go there Friday and wasn’t coming home until Monday. And I wasn’t coming back looking well.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 20:05
These weekend vendors eventually caught up with her when one morning she failed to pick her mom up at the airport. And her carefully crafted house of cards came tumbling down.
Why once it came to light, what was happening? You know, my dad was on the phone from Florida and they’re like, you know, we want you to, we really want you to go get help. We want you to go to 12 step meetings. And we’re really worried about you. And I was like, woah, 12 step meetings. No, thank you. I will stop this on my own. You don’t have to worry about me. And I did. I never did that. Again. I’m sure I talked to him a couple more times. But nothing memorable and nothing. Like we stopped seeing each other basically after that, if that’s what you can call when someone comes to your house to smoke. […]
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 21:01
I mean, yeah, that’s what I would call it lately.
Yes. Thank you. Thank you.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 21:14
That is impressive, though. I mean, that is impressive. I would have a lot of hubris built up around the fact that I was like, Oh, I can do it on my own. Here we go. Wanna see me? Done.
Which also proved to me, you know, well, since I did put it down that easily. I’m not an addict. No, I’m not an alcoholic. So I’m good. Right. So good that I had that experience. So that I know, because I know that people in my family are and I wanted you know, just to be sure I wasn’t like them. And that was proved to me that I wasn’t
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 21:53
Absolutely, I would have thought the same thing.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 22:13
We’re back. So Laura has kicked the habit cold turkey, and is leaving her year of basing behind her another part of herself, she’s adeptly stashing away. Meanwhile, she’s working her waitressing shifts and hanging out with her group of besties called the flies or First Lady’s in every situation. But as her former classmates began to graduate college and move on to the next phase of their lives, Laura felt left behind. It was time for a change.
One of the flies, it was her idea that we make a move. And I was like, Well, I want to go to Los Angeles because I love love, love, commercials. I love them. I used to watch the Clio Awards, which are commercial awards for years, every year. I never missed them. And, and so I wanted to direct commercials, I thought, well, this is what I’m going to do. Because I love commercials. Let’s move to LA so I can find a way to direct them. So we did. And I got a job working for a commercial director. And I learned so much about commercials. And I also kind of figured that I wasn’t going to be a director because, you know, everybody else was white. Everybody else was male. I had no real. I didn’t have any body of work to show anybody so that I could get a job. I was a receptionist at this company. And my salary wasn’t going to allow me to go off and create a real somewhere. No. So I ended up doing publicity. I ended up changing jobs. And I told everybody that I graduated from high school that I went to college, I went to Florida Atlantic University, that was the school they chose, because I think it was small enough that people probably hadn’t gone there. It was a big enough name that people might be impressed. And I had been on their campus several times because my dad’s lived in Florida. I visited over there so I knew their campus really well. So I figured if somebody asked me a question about you know, whatever hall I wouldn’t know where that was, and oh, yeah, that’s a terrible walk.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 24:24
You thought this out.
Every day hustling. So I lied to get this job and I was stunned by this job. It was so perfect for me.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 24:39
Laura has spent the next few years crushing it as a publicist effortlessly navigating a world of glitz and glamour that was such a stark contrast to how and where she grew up. But her carefully crafted persona this character she wrote for herself fit right in and she quickly found more and more success. So you started your own PR firm at what age?
Turning 29, yeah.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 25:08
And are you? Are you dating at this point? Are you are you interested in that? Do you have time for that?
Yes. Never stopped dating. I Yeah. So I, I dated exclusively black men. Up until this point in my life. I had never gone out with a white guy. I didn’t have any desire to. And then one caught my eye. So we used to have these thing called fanzines. They were like, teen magazines, I’m telling this to your listeners. I know, you know. But it was like before social media. So this is how we got our information about, like celebrities. And he was on the cover of one of my magazines when I drove to Los Angeles years before. I wish I kept that magazine. But I was a fan of his. And he was on a hit TV show that came on every Friday night, which I watched religiously. And I ran into him at this club where I worked on the side to make extra money. And he saw me out one night and didn’t know where he knew me from. So he called the restaurant after he left and asked for the black girl. The leather jacket should be brought to the phone. And I knew I knew who he was because he had been staring at me all night. And I just know, because I’m a fan of his. We went on a date and I was pretty smitten with him. And I was really surprised by that. Because I have just always I mean, my children were going to be black. I was going to marry a black man, we were going to be the black love poster family. Yeah, it never occurred to me that I might marry a White guy.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 26:44
And how long were you to dating before he proposed?
Four years? Maybe a little bit less than four years?
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 26:50
Okay. So it’s pretty long term relationship. And, and how would you describe the relationship early on before kids and all.
It was great. I mean, in talking about glamorous, not in the freebasing way. You know, everything one might expect for a young Hollywood star, who was then moving into directing. And so whatever you might think of came with that life. You know, Sundance Film Festival, Vale, Hawaii premieres, parties. Just really gorgeous, lavish trips, and my company grew and you know, in so did our love, like we just, we just really dug hanging out together. We took road trips. It was just really fun.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 27:47
And when did you to decide? Or did you decide that you wanted to? Have little people come into the world with you?
That’s a good question. I never really wanted kids. Like I thought I never babysat for a baby. I didn’t have any, like idea of, there was nothing in me that’s like, oh. Let me have your kid for a little while because I love them. I was never like that. Yeah. So I don’t know why we decided to have kids. But we did it pretty quickly after we got married. We started trying. I think that it just felt like the next step. And I also think I thought that’s what was expected of me. Was that one that I would want kids and two that I would want them right away. The first time we got pregnant, it was really easy. And then my first one was about coming up on a year when I realized that I was actually my, the woman who does my eyebrows realized that I was pregnant. Because she’s like, your eyebrows are curling like they were when you were pregnant. Their first baby I might, teared. And she’s like, no, seriously, I remember how curly they were. And I’m like, no, but I’ll take your word for it. I said but I’m not pregnant. I can’t be pregnant. I’m still nursing. Like, and she was right. I was pregnant with my second one. So yeah, they were born in 98 and 99. And the things that I was trying to conceal about myself the items that I was trying to conceal, expanded once I had children because I didn’t know anything about kids. And it didn’t look like I was parenting the way other people were.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 29:35
Yeah, okay, what did you see other people doing that you in your head? Were like, I’m not doing it like that.
Well, the first thing was co-sleeping. Like my kids. Kids were in my bed all the time.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 29:50
I just got my last one out. Yeah, but it seemed
like all my friends were so like they had done this very regimented. Ferber rising That’s what we called it, then yes. And then, you know, they sleep in their own rooms. And they’re just like, and that’s how it was. And I was so tired, that the battle of trying to get them to sleep in their own beds was so not worth it for me, I needed to sleep. So I just come in, come in, but that the two boys in your bed is not great for a marriage. No, it’s not great for a marriage is not great for intimacy. And I’m not even talking sex now, just that, that time that, you know, two adults can have at the end of the day to connect and download. And you know that you can breathe in each other’s breath and be face to face and maybe watch something on TV like that. There was none of that because I was, it was all babies all day for me. And all night. And then I wasn’t sleeping, they would wake up and I couldn’t get back to sleep. And I would put them back to sleep. And then I couldn’t get back to sleep. And then it was morning. It’s probably suffering from pretty severe postpartum. But I did go to my OB GYN and he’s like, nah, just drink a glass of wine at night, you’ll be fine.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 31:23
Hourly, Laura was absolutely nailing her new roles as wife to bigshot director and mom to two young kids. Oh, and if by now you are wondering, wait a minute, who was she married to? Because let’s be honest, we all love celebrity gossip. Well, Laura is a class act, and she doesn’t name drop in the book. So we are going to respect her choice on that one. But I’m also not saying that you do not have access to Google. Anyway, Laura’s days were filled with keeping up appearances, volunteering at school sitting on boards playing tennis, I mean, she did everything she was supposed to do as a member of the Hollywood elite. And all of it was exhausting. Meanwhile, she still wasn’t sleeping, her hyper vigilance from childhood and mixed with maternal instincts. And she was just constantly anxious that something bad would happen to her children. So when she finally went to a doctor who prescribed her Ambien to help her fall asleep and reset her system, she was ecstatic. She finally felt a sense of relief.
And it was like that, that Hemingway quote, gradually, and then suddenly, like so, you know, the progression was one per night, just like he said, you know, for six months, and then or even a year, it might have been and then the next year, it was like, oh, I need one and a half because one isn’t putting me to sleep. And then it was like three, but then I’m justifying it. And then you know, it’s too many. So I need a second source of prescriptions, because I don’t want to raise any red flags, I want to be under the radar. And then it was really just as many as I could get my hands on. And I was experiencing such severe cycles of tolerance and withdrawal, that I needed to have something in my system all the time, or else it was debilitating. At first, like it would get me this really lovely, kind of euphoric feeling before I fell asleep. And I really enjoyed that. But at this point, it was just maintenance and survival. It all started to spiral out of control. But I didn’t tell anybody how many pills I was taking. So when I stopped for a week abruptly, not by choice, but because I ran out and I didn’t have another refill coming up. At the very end of that week, I had a seizure at my son’s basketball game and then a second one while in the hospital in the ER waiting room.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 34:02
So when you are at this basketball game, and you have this seizure, is there any part of you that’s like, oh, fuck that the jig is up.
It didn’t even occur to me that it was connected to Ambien because I hadn’t had any. I also didn’t have any alcohol in my system. I think if I had had a depressant in my system, I probably wouldn’t have gone had the seizures, but I didn’t have anything in my system.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 34:26
Why the everything to nothing? I mean, you ran out of your prescription, but I understand you’re also drinking. I mean, why? How?
I only drink to boost the Ambien. I don’t I don’t really like drinking. Got it. And so I would never drink on its own. Like that wasn’t something that I did. I did it in my 20s socially. Yeah. Like I thought that was really fun, but it was it’s not very appealing to me. I thought pills were so much more civilized. Smell them. You know you can smell them on anybody. They fit in your purse really nicely. They didn’t, you know, there was no hangover. Well, you know, but not, not when I was taking them at first. I just really I liked pills a lot. I didn’t like booze that much, but I did drink it. You know, quite a lot of it to boost the Ambien. But if I didn’t have the Ambien I never drank. And the decision after all the testing, they kept me there overnight to test me was this was caused by abrupt cessation of Ambien and lack of sleep. Because when I don’t take Ambien, I can’t sleep. So I was up for seven days. And I hadn’t, you know, I was missing my Ambien. And so they’re like, We don’t ever want this to happen again. So we’re going to override, you know, California’s subscription and prescription restrictions. And basically, I can get as much as I want, whenever I want it. That was the conclusion. Which was very good news to me. I was very happy about that news.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 36:04
The most insane thing I have ever heard.
And it wasn’t just one doctor. It was like a group of them decided this. Because they wanted me to sleep. You know, and I pled my case, for sleeping. I made a very good case for sleeping. Of course you did.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 36:30
Okay, so they give you an on limited prescription. You are in the land of milk and honey now.
But I was, you know, I had to keep myself from running out. And the Running Man is what I say like, I want to just do the running man out the front doors. And it was it was another very joyful moment in my life. But it was short lived.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 37:02
Okay, so it was in this window where you said you wanted a divorce, right? Yes, that’s right, just to get another, yet another.
And I forget, like really important things like that. Totally. Like, oh, by the way, I also file for divorce at the same time. So it’s right around, right around the time of the seizures. It was actually right afterward. I just didn’t know how I was going to be happy again. And I thought maybe, because we hadn’t, you know, he and I hadn’t been happy in the way that we were when we were first married for a long time. And I thought maybe if we weren’t married, maybe that would be better for me. Maybe I would be able to find happiness that way. And again, this wasn’t entirely rational thought because I was also choosing to keep using drugs.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 38:00
How in the world did you get from that moment? To treatment? I mean, I know there’s like a three month window, right? So let’s like sort of break that down a little bit.
The first thing that happened was my pharmacist dimed on me, and thought he was dispensing too much Ambien to me. So he alerted whoever, whatever authorities, he needed to alert and they call my doctor. And so my doctor pulled me off of it and said, We need to take you off of this, we have to take you off safely. You know, because of what had happened before, but we need to taper you off for this and we need to do it now. Because you’re taking too much. And so then, you know, I didn’t like have a drug dealer for it. I didn’t know anybody like that. I didn’t know how I was gonna get it. I got it off the internet once but then I got caught at the PIO box because I couldn’t get it delivered to the house. And so I was just like, Okay, I can’t do that anymore. That was too scary for me. Anyway, I was so scared of that. You know, I was kind of getting to the last dregs of my supply chain, because I had a couple more refills coming up, but it was like it was dwindling. And I was at our second home, which was in Malibu on Fourth of July watching about to take my kids to the fireworks and I couldn’t do it because my withdrawal was too acute. I was in I was in it was excruciating. I sent them with the neighbors to go see the fireworks figure to knock myself out. So I could get like some relief from what was going on. It’s like, like the worst flu like the pounding had the aching body, like needles in my face just piercing everywhere, rapid heartbeat, sweating, nausea, like everything bad that you can imagine. But that was what I was experiencing and Ambien was the only thing that made it better. You know, even a little bit made it better and I didn’t have as much as I thought I had. And I was freaked out because I knew it wouldn’t be enough. But I took it all I washed it down with vodka. I took Benadryl, which was another thing that helped boost it. And I slept for an hour that I slept for hours. And there was only an hour. My kids got home. And they needed me. And I was like, I can’t do this anymore. I gotta go.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 40:39
We’re back. It is the summer of 2008. The year that everything changed. Laura has had a life threatening seizure at her son’s basketball game filed for divorce, and experienced the terror of being completely unavailable for her kids as a result of her addiction. The metaphorical dam has broken and she has made the decision to seek treatment.
My ex-husband flew me to Arizona where I went to treatment on a private jet because there was no airport.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 41:17
I love that the private jet is part of story. Yes. Still glamorous all the way to rehab.
Yes. And I was devastated. I never been away from my kids for that long. You know, I needed to get well so that I could be in their lives. And I also you know, I didn’t want to leave them. I felt like a bad mom for leaving them. And I hated it immediately hated it.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 41:48
What was like so awful about it?
Everything. First of all, it was 114 degrees.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 41:54
No, thank you.
Tumbleweeds, you know, like just rolling around. Everyone was white again. It was the only person of color and the only black person. I mean, I hadn’t had a slumber party. Since I was a kid. I do not like to sleep in the same room with other people. I don’t share rooms when. And I had four roommates and no TV, no caffeine, no sugar. No way to contact my kids without permission, I had to get specific permission. And there was a certain time where I could talk to anybody. And I was, you know, kind of herded into these groups and classes all day, telling me how I could drink less alcohol. And I’m like, fuck you. I don’t even really drink that much. Like, oh, my god, like these people really need to be here. I’m so cool. I don’t need to be here at all. And I tried to leave several times, actually, at least once a week, but that first week, maybe three or four times and ended up staying. And that’s where I found myself amongst all those other good people who needed to be there when I did not totally and, and Scott, who I met who just came in to check on this to see how long we were going. Who I met the hour after I checked in, he was patient number 412. I was patient number 411. We all got numbers. I also referred to him as four DUIs because that was my first impression of him was an orientation. Everybody went around and said why they were there. And he said for DUIs and so I was like, damn baby, or do you guys actually, I don’t even know if I thought that at that point.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 43:53
When you met him, did you, I mean, you probably weren’t sparking much as a human, I imagine at this point in your life. Like didn’t have the capacity to spark. But did you have any kind of about Scott?
No, no. I was narrowly focused laser focused on getting the fuck out of there. And he was in the way because he was talking to me, I bolted out of orientation. You know, I gone to the office to check out and he was there with my jacket. And it was like, what are you doing? Like, how did you even get like, I was not I was not enthralled with him. I was a little curious about his kind of feckless, good natured kind of quality that he had in the middle of this place. Like how can anybody feel like oh, let’s go do this or I hear they have a great chef here. Well, Like, what? Where could that optimism come from? So I was a little curious about that. But I wouldn’t say that I was drawn to it.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 45:09
He helped you stay right. He kind of convinced you to stay put and not get the fuck out. Is that correct?
He absolutely saved my life. And that is not hyperbole.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 45:26
Thank you so much. I’m so glad that made its way back.
His presence in my life there at that time. And, and, you know, we weren’t a rehab hookup. We weren’t like, you know, disappearing together and having sex in the dorms like a lot of other people were. We were he was like, my really good friend and he absolutely dug me, like he couldn’t take his eyes off me. He kept staring at me all the time. But his friendship what he did for me the compassion he showed for me the intuitive way he knew when I needed him was, you know, I would have laughed. I absolutely would have left. If he weren’t there. I would have 100% gone. And if there was no Scott there, there would have been no me.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 46:26
Very goose bumpy. That’s powerful. When you were there, when you were, when he was your best friend. And you guys were pals. And you got to the end. Finally. Yes. How did you feel? It’s your last day of treatment? You’re ready, you’re leaving? What is that like?
They could not wait to get in the higher car and drive the fuck off that campus and be away from all those people. I mean, and I say that that was absolutely true for me at that moment arriving home with something else entirely. But an even after we were in the car, you know, was different. But leaving there. I couldn’t wait. It was an elation that I had was previously unknown to me. Was getting out of there.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 47:28
And you do get out of there. You get back home. And now you have to live a life of sobriety. In an old environment in which you have all your old stuff and everything is still there. You’re different. Scott’s not there. How are you able to stick to your recovery in those early months post treatment?
So, I didn’t have to stick to it. I definitely made choices. It was all about my kids. It really was. You’re not supposed to get sober for your children. That’s what people told me all the time. But I did. And I absolutely stayed sober for them. That first year. There were so many times like I went to my divorce attorney after I got back and I had had this refill of Ambien come up. And I just wanted to have like a night or two where I could really sleep. This is what my head said. And so I was considering getting a transfer back. And then I sat down with my attorney. And she gave me like a list of things that she needed me to do, so that we could get me divorced in a way that we want it to get me divorced. And I won’t say winning because no one wins, I don’t think. And one of the first thing she said was drug testing twice a week for 90 days. And I was like, what? She’s like, Yeah, we need to do an alcoholic drug test for you, every week for 90 days. I’m like, Just did they ask for this? Like, why? And she’s like, I just want proof of your sobriety. Should we ever need it? And I cried when I got back in the car because I knew that meant that I couldn’t I can’t be the drug test. It just, it was just so much work. You know, I’ve been hustling for so long I was like tired of hustling. And so I’m gonna have to go get these drug tests and I’m gonna have to do all this other stuff like go to meetings, like all these this prescription that she gave me for my life. As much as I hated it was what ended up allowing me to stay sober. I went to three meetings a day, at first. And on the weekends, I went to two. And I started being honest with people slowly. They took a while and I found a woman that had my story and she agreed to sponsor me which meant that she would guide me through the steps of the program. And my memory of me at that time, I was very unwilling, very unwilling. But what I understand now, you know, almost 15 years later, is that I was very willing, I was just very resistant. I didn’t want to do any of it. But I did everything she asked me to do. When she told me to be at a meeting early, I was there, and she told me to be in the front row, I was there in the front row, when she told me that, you know, we have to put money in the basket. And you know, it needs to be equivalent to what you spent on whatever you spend every week, because I know I had the copay. So it wasn’t that much. So that’s $5. So I put $5 in the basket. And, you know, I mean, I’m not suggesting these things for anyone else. This is what I’m just giving the example of what she told me to do. And I did it. And I did it. And I met with her. Gosh, three or four times a week, I met with a group of the women she sponsored twice a month. I went to like those little stupid parties and gatherings that they do in recovery. I went to recovery softball games, I didn’t play. I know it sounds horrible. I know you know, I talk about it. Like so I work I work out five days a week. I do strength training three days a week I do peloton twice a week. I don’t like working out. I really don’t. I don’t I don’t enjoy it. I never lose myself in it and think oh my god, this is great. I don’t look forward to it. But I do it every, I do it every weekday. I do it every day. And I am better because of it. I’m 58 years old, I was 43 when I got sober. I’m 58 years old. And I never really had to work out before. But I do now because I start to lose my muscle tone. When I don’t. And I think of my recovery that way. Like, I may not always enjoy it. I may not look forward to it. But however I feel about it doesn’t matter. I do it anyway. Because I’m better for it. You know, I’m in this work all the time. And that the result is that I get a life? No, I get a life outside of that. And I get to you know, my kids didn’t have to bury their mom, right? My kids didn’t have to visit me in jail. They don’t have to visit me in an institution, although they did visit me in treatment. But in an institution where I’m not able to leave, because I’ve messed myself up so bad that there is no going home. They don’t have to do that. And that is because of this work that I do. So that’s the price of admission. I’m happy to pay it.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 52:59
I have to tell you, my brother’s death anniversary is in three days. So I’m like, my fucking mess this week, truly. But it is so like, that’s, that is what I wanted for him so badly. And it’s just it’s so funny, because he was also like, so fucking opposed to like, any goddamn anything that anyone would tell him to do. And I just love how you phrase that. It’s not fun, but you show up you do it. It’s routine. It’s practice, like you do it every you know. Yeah. And I just really, it’s just really, always very heartwarming to know that it is possible. You know?
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 53:54
Yeah. It’s amazing that you’ve been able to do this.
It is amazing. And it is and I realize how fortunate I am, you know, if things had happened in a different order, I might not be here. You know, if I left one of those times, if I had waited another two months to go in, like who knows? Totally. So it is amazing.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 54:18
And if you had to give me a snapshot of your life now, right, like that moment, that last day that that moment of profound change for you. You survived it. I mean, I would say you surviving and thriving, I would say thriving is what you’re doing now.
100% thriving, I mean, my life now, my life is so good. My life is so great. It really is and it doesn’t have anything to do with Well, that’s not true. I like the external stuff too. But the main thing is that I have these relationships IPs that I’ve worked really hard for, because, and I say I’ve worked hard for them, because I’ve worked hard on myself in them to come as I am, to be authentic, to be honest, to be real. And I’m terrified. You know, when I show up as myself that I’m going to get that response that I did when I was a kid, and be told I’m too much, or I’m too little, or I’m not enough, whatever the response my stepfather gave me. And this is where my faith comes in, is I have faith in this process, I have faith in the honesty, the honesty, works, talking about things works, all the stuff, I was afraid of works. I am so much more interesting. As somebody who dropped out of high school, and then figured out a way to start my own PR company. I’m so much more interesting like that, then I would be if I just gone the traditional route. And that never occurred to me before. I was always it was always too coded and shame for me to even look at it. And, you know, everything in my life is more interesting. When I tell the truth about it, than when I tell like the kind of sanitized lie that I want to tell, so that I fly under the radar so that you don’t double take me and go what. So that that is that has been my work. And so my snapshot is, I live in a sober home, I have this amazing office that I’m talking to you from that is my place of solitude is where I write, it’s where I’m writing my next book. And I have my boys close by my mom’s nearby. My dad’s still in Florida, but he’s visiting next week. And I have all these friends from you know, when I was a teenager in my 20s my 30s like every decade, I have friends from who know me and love me and understand that it took me a while to be the authentic Laura and they’ve just they just love me as I am. I can be myself with them. And that’s what it looks like.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 57:07
I love that that’s a great picture. Great snapshot, I buy it.
Stephanie Wittels Wachs 57:18
What I love about Laura snapshot is that it’s not just about where she is right now. It’s about where she has been. The fact that she is able to show up authentically now means that she’s able to finally be her true self around all the people from all the years of her life that she hid from for so long. Whether that’s her parents, her kids are her friends from the various phases of her life. All of them saw only what she wanted them to see. But that is not the case anymore. If you have a chance, I cannot recommend this enough. Please go pick up Laura’s book, stash my life in hiding. It is so much more than just a book about addiction and recovery. It is more than just a memoir. It is physical proof that being who you are, is undoubtedly the most interesting version of yourself there is. Thanks so much for listening. We’ll see you next week.
LAST DAY is a production of Lemonada Media. The show is produced by Kegan Zema, Aria Bracci, and Tiffany Bui. Our engineer is Brian Castillo. Music is by Hannis Brown. Steve Nelson is our Vice President of weekly content and production and Jackie Danziger is our Vice President of narrative content and production. Executive Producers are Jessica Cordova Kramer and me Stephanie Wittels Wachs. If you’d like what you heard today, we have three other seasons that you can check out. Have a story you’d like to share, head to bit.ly/lastdaystories, or click the link in the show notes to fill out our confidential Google Form. follow and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts or listen ad free on Amazon music with your Prime membership.